OAKS, PA. (Top40 Charts/ MVD Entertainment Group)
Sometimes when you fall in love, you know it from the first embrace. A Foreign Affair is the story of five guys and their love affair with the music of the world. This album from the venerable jazz group Spyro Gyra
takes you on a journey to the music closest to them from some places in some cases farthest from them. A Foreign Affair draws from the experiences of an enduring international career, one that has taken them to the far reaches of the globe. It's no secret that Spyro Gyra
started out their career with the rhythms of the world. From the samba rhythms and Caribbean feel of their early hits to the latest album, these musicians have made it a point to embrace the music wherever they go. For instance, not long ago they played shows in New Jersey and Rochester NY but then left the U.S. to perform in Turkey, Germany, Netherlands, Israel, India, Martinique and South Africa. That's in less than one month. That tour is something of what this new album sounds like if you just add in a few more places.
It's a sign of how enduring this band's career is that, thirty-five years after their first album, their four most recent albums were each nominated for a Grammy.
"One of the benefits of being in this band is that our music is popular all over the planet. Inevitably, we experience the local culture and inevitably we absorb some of those influences," explains leader and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein. "The guys and I were talking about what we wanted to do with this record before we started. We decided to make it all about that. We've actually been talking about making this record for years."
So, is A Foreign Affair, drawing liberally from the music of the world, a world music album? Beckenstein says not really. "It's more Spyro Gyra being influenced by the world. We're not trying to emulate any musical style in its pure native form. We're not trying to play 'perfect' salsa or traditional Indian music, for instance. Sometimes it means borrowing directly from another style, particularly in the rhythms, but mainly we're flavoring our music with these influences."
You can begin your journey with "Caribe" as it takes you on a leisurely stroll set to a reggae beat. This opening gem can already be added to the collection of Jay Beckenstein's most memorable melodies. This is followed by "Khuda" which announces itself immediately as the most obvious departure on the record with its intro. It's probably the first time a Western group has released a song with lyrics entirely in Hindi, the native language to about 200 million people in the world. Beckenstein explains, "Tom Schuman had worked with Sandeep Chowta, a Mumbai producer and composer, long distance over the net and then I did some work for Sandeep. We were very impressed with what he was doing, so when we decided to take the record in this direction, Sandeep was a perfect gateway into Indian music for us. It was a natural to ask Sandeep to contribute to A Foreign Affair."
On "Sweet Ole Thang," drummer Bonny Bonaparte takes you back to his native Trinidad for a Calypso flavored, steel pan band party rave-up. It's ironic that with "Sweet Ole Thang" Bonny, being the band's newest member at five years, has delivered the song most reminiscent of the Spyro Gyra "classic" sound. Beckenstein offers, "When I wrote 'Morning Dance' and 'Shaker Song,' that influence came from music I heard on the radio in New York. With Bonny, it's right from the source. He was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad."
The next couple of songs are showcases for Julio Fernandez, who describes his "Falling Walls" as "world music funk." It's set apart from Spyro Gyra's other high-energy funk romps by its clever though subtle use of Middle Eastern scales. This sets up Julio's vocal rendition of "Chileno Boys," a song written by Israeli star David Broza, adapted from a poem by Mexican American author Alberto Rios. In a way, these songs capture the theme of A Foreign Affair with the title "Falling Walls" segueing into a song whose chorus proudly proclaims from its protagonists, "Not different from you."
Our itinerary takes us next to "Shinjuku," a famous nightlife area of Tokyo, but this is not the Japan of temples and the koto and shakuhachi. Beckenstein explains, "When you go to Shinjuku, the contradiction is built right in. It's very Japanese, but it's also very New York, very urban, a very happening place. It's not surprising that it would sound Japanese but also very familiar."
"Samba For Two" and "Cancao de Ninar," take us to Brazil, a familiar presence in Spyro Gyra's music. "Brazil is one of those places that has a thousand flavors," Beckenstein says. "From my earliest days listening to Stan Getz, I was deeply attracted to Brazilian music. It's sexy and complex and sophisticated and beautiful, like Brazil itself."
"Antigua," which sounds like it came from the island in the Caribbean, was actually named after the city of the same name in the central highlands of Guatemala. Jay named it after this Central American World Heritage site due to a particularly memorable show the group once played there.
"Last Call" is sung by Grammy winning blues great Keb Mo'. It's a song that at first may not seem to belong in the stated theme, but Beckenstein insists it does. "The United States, the birthplace of jazz and the blues, is part of the world. Our manager Phil Brennan had been working with Danny O'Keefe, who co-wrote this really beautiful song, and he suggested that we do it. Phil also suggested that we ask Keb' Mo' to sing it. We had worked with Keb' Mo' when he was first starting out and we're big admirers. So when he said yes, we leapt at it."
Our trip then takes us to South Africa with "Dancing On Table Mountain" named after the Cape Town landmark. "South Africa is a complicated place but it's a country with a great spirit. I think that Scott (Ambush) captured that. It's not particularly South African in style, but it is in spirit," Beckenstein opines.
It's notable that despite the many twists and turns the musical styles do take on the album, it always sounds like Spyro Gyra. "It's always going to sound like our musical voice," explains Beckenstein. "Whatever we do, we're always going to put our signature on it. It's so rewarding as a musician to be able to work with other musicians who can do so many things well."
Have A Foreign Affair and fall in love with the world all over again. While you're at it, you just might fall in love with Spyro Gyra all over again.
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